MSF has physical and mental health care points in Bajo Chiquito and the Migrants Reception Stations in Lajas Blancas and San Vicente. Panama, 2023. © Natalia Romero Peñuela/MSF

Darien Gap, Panama: MSF forced to suspend medical care for migrants

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been ordered by Panamanian authorities to stop all medical activities for people on the move through the Darién Gap, on the border between Panama and Colombia. Since receiving the order on Monday 4 March, MSF has suspended our activities. The Panamanian authorities allege that MSF does not currently have a collaboration agreement in place with the Ministry Of Health, which we have tried, in vain, to renew since October 2023.

We are extremely concerned about the consequences that the suspension of our activities has on people on the move through the Darién Gap, the heavily forested region which is the only land route for people migrating north. On average, our medical teams provide physical and psychological healthcare to nearly 5,000 people per month, at the San Vicente and Lajas Blancas migrant reception centres. Our teams place a special emphasis on treating survivors of sexual violence. During 2023, we provided comprehensive medical care to 676 people who experienced sexual violence on this part of the migration route; in January 2024 alone, our teams recorded 120 more cases. In February, MSF again denounced the increase in the number of brutal attacks and sexual assaults in the forest.

Because of the obvious health needs, which have increased exponentially over the last three years, MSF hopes to be able to resume medical care in San Vicente and Lajas Blancas as soon as possible. The suspension also coincides with an expected increase in the number of migrants crossing into Panama this week, after boat transports resumed in Colombia following a couple of days of suspension.

MSF assists people at different points along the migration route between South America, Central America, Mexico and the United States. We provide free and confidential support to people on the move. In 2023, we provided 59,877 medical and nursing consultations (35% to patients under 15 years of age and 53% to women and girls), 2,978 mental health consultations, and performed 24,762 first aid consultations at the exit of the forest.